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Southern Spars - North Technology

The question of Turtles

by Jennifer Nolan/Sail-World Cruising on 15 Mar 2013
Sea turtle by John Abernethy .. .
There are probably few groups of people who come into contact with turtles more than cruising sailors. Whether we dive with them, shout a call when we sight them off the bow, or trek the beaches searching for their footprints, most cruising sailors are fascinated by turtles. And they need help. Read this fascinating article by Jennifer Nolan, a Sailors for the Sea Essay:

Protecting sea turtles is not only an act of compassion; it reinforces a necessary link in the fragile chain of our earth's ecosystem. And when humankind is in harmony with the 'world of the sea turtle' and the ocean at large, the benefits are far reaching-we are all connected.


The sea turtles that exist today represent an evolutionary lineage that dates back at least 110 million years. Based on current data and trends, sea turtles are considered by many to be on the brink of extinction; immediate action is imperative if they are to rebound. There are seven species: flatback, green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. All seven species are endangered, six of them critically. The good news, we know what is required to save them-it is simply a matter of having the good sense and vision to do so.


Presently, the status quo only serves to fuel the rapid and alarming decline of sea turtle populations worldwide. To realign policies and governance-on an international level-is to take the time-sensitive steps necessary to save these magnificent creatures. As stated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 'The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires multi-lateral cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals.'

One practice directly linked to excessive sea turtle fatalities is the use of longlines-a controversial, modern fishing technique. Boats run fishing lines up to sixty miles in length (approx. 100 kilometers), dropping millions of hooks each day. It is estimated that 1.4 billion hooks are cast into the ocean annually via this method (worldwide). While some of the traditional and destructive 'J' hooks are being replaced by circle hooks, longlines still decimate untold numbers of marine life. Not only does this negatively impact sea turtle populations, but scores of other threatened species fall prey to this practice as well.

Estimates supported by the Humane Society of the United States suggest that each year longlines kill more than 40,000 sea turtles, 300,000 seabirds (including endangered albatrosses), millions of sharks, and thousands of marine mammals such as oceanic dolphins, sperm whales, and orcas. Regenerating these populations can take decades. With a staggering ninety percent of large, pelagic fish now harvested from the sea, losing fish 'by mistake' (bycatch) is simply unacceptable.

Another fishing technique that delivers crushing effects on sea turtle populations, and scores of other marine life, are nets. Sea turtles caught in these fishing nets are unable to surface for oxygen - stressed and unable to breathe, they drown. One grid-like device that is saving some sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets is the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), enforced by the 'Shrimp-turtle law' enacted in the United States in 1989. While TEDs are helping to reduce unnecessary sea turtle deaths, this alone will not do enough to allow the population numbers to recover. Increased global restrictions on fisheries, protection of prime sea turtle habitats, and higher standards for water quality must be universally enacted if these reptiles are to survive.


Water pollution effecting the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean is also a serious problem for sea turtles. Unprecedented numbers of sea turtles are now suffering from a disease call fibropapillomatosis (presenting as growths on the soft tissue); some scientists are convinced this is linked to pollution. The now historic BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico-which dumped hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the ocean-serves as a prime example of how gambling with the environment's safety not only severely effects an abundance of wildlife, but triggers massive economic loss.

The Gulf of Mexico, a breeding ground for countless species, happens to be 'home' to the critically endangered Kemp's ridley. With their home turned into a virtual sea of chemicals and oil slicks, and their prey (primarily crustaceans such as blue crabs) now critically contaminated, the fate of the Kemp's ridley is even more threatened; all because of a lack of vision and responsibility by industry and government. Industry can only do what we as a society demand and allow.

For centuries, the resilience of sea turtles has been tested, and like most champions, they adapt. But turtles are now putting us to the test. Will mankind implement regulations that seek to halt their decline and potential demise, will we put in place safeguards to protect them from unnecessary harm, or will we let them slip away on our watch? The extinction of sea turtles would be directly due to our actions, or lack thereof. Their survival is in our hands-literally. With our capable hands, we must sign petitions to protect them, pull up the abandoned 'ghost nets,' remove harpoons from those who harvest these defenseless creatures, conserve and cleanup our littered beaches, and turn off the lights that shine on sacred nesting grounds when the sun sinks below the horizon line.

It is now common knowledge, backed by unprecedented science, that to be ethical stewards of our natural environment, to ensure the earth's biological integrity, and to live with reverence for all living creatures that coexist on this planet is in our best interest - our surroundings mirror who we are as a society and greatly impact our own well-being. We must all have rights, 'we' meaning all flora, fauna, and humankind; our society functions best when all entities are considered and honored.

To embrace proposed sustainable practices for fisheries, farming, and forestry is to live responsibly - but most especially, preservation of our biodiversity protects the natural resources so essential to our own survival. Simply put, protecting your environment is to protect your home. Just like a turtle cannot separate from its shell, we cannot separate from the conditions we create here on Earth.


Sea turtles are an inspiration-they are survivors, and encountering one is no less than swimming with millions of years of evolution. Let it not be on our watch, or from our complacency, that their existence flickers out. The ocean without sea turtles would be like the celestial sky void of shimmering stars. The legacy of our generation will be determined by what we leave behind for those who follow in our footsteps.

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, 'The measure of a civilization is the landscape it leaves behind.' The fate of sea turtles will be an indicator of own moral compass. Please join the call to action to save and protect these archangels of the sea, and in doing so, demonstrate the best qualities of humankind-compassion and wisdom.

What Can You Do?
Abide by laws and efforts that seek to protect sea turtles and their natural habitats.
Avoid using plastic bags or helium balloons-sea turtles ingest this type of trash that's floats in the ocean, mistaking it for jellyfish.
Support ocean conservation by making a donation to www.sailorsforthesea.org!Sailors-for-the-Sea.
Support conservation organizations that address key threats to sea turtles.
Write or call your local politician; encourage them to vote in favor of conservation efforts benefiting sea turtles and their habitats.
Use biodegradable products for lawn care, garden, and household uses, and on your boat-these products end up in waterways that feed into the ocean.
If you go to the beach during nesting months where they are likely to be, please remove all beach chairs, umbrellas, and trash upon leaving. Flatten sand castles and fill in any holes formed on the beach.
Do not disrupt any roped off nesting grounds, especially where 'No trespassing' signs are posted.
Respect light-restriction laws near beaches where sea turtles nest.
Sign petitions that fight to stop accidental and intentional sea turtle deaths. Boycott all turtle products, both meat and ornamental.
Participate in an 'Adopt a sea turtle' program through one of the many non-profits that offer this fun and easy way to help save sea turtles.

This was a www.sailorsforthesea.org!Sailors_for_the_Sea Essay. Photos by: Jim Abernethy

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